Watercolor: materials and techniques

Watercolor: materials and techniques

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Painting with watercolors can be great fun, but can also quickly lead to unexpected results if we don’t have proper control over the paint. It is especially important for beginners to get familiar with a few techniques of watercolor painting and to work with the right materials.

Materials for watercolor (basic equipment)

You don’t have to spend a fortune to paint with watercolor, but certain basic equipment will make your life much easier. It is obvious that we need paper, brushes, and watercolors, but what do we have to pay attention to and what other materials can we use for our watercolor paintings?

The right paper for watercolor paintings

Watercolor painting on watercolor paper

Watercolor paper is indispensable if you want to paint with watercolors. Printer and drawing paper are not suitable for absorbing water: The paper will flake and dissolve or at best dry wavy and distort your painting.

With the right paper, we not only save ourselves a lot of trouble, we can also try out all kinds of watercolor techniques with it. The investment in a watercolor block is definitely worth it!

With watercolor paper, we distinguish between rough and smooth paper. While smooth paper allows very precise brush strokes and absolute control over color gradients, the rough paper is better suited for landscape paintings in a typical watercolor style.

Different brushes for watercolor

When it comes to brushes, the question often arises as to whether natural or synthetic bristles are better. Nowadays, there is no reason to buy brushes made of natural bristles anymore, because synthetic bristles are in no way inferior in quality.

The different hardnesses of pencils are the different sizes of brushes: You don’t need them all to paint good paintings, but a balanced variety will help you to paint even better paintings. With a brush size between 8 and 10, you usually do nothing wrong, because you can make thin strokes as well as fill medium-sized areas with watercolors. If you want to make very fine strokes, you should choose the brush size 0. For very large areas you can use anything from 20 and above.

Even though watercolors are water-soluble, we should always clean our brushes after painting.

Watercolors

For a start, you don't have to buy a whole watercolor kit. It is better to start with the three basic colors red, yellow, and blue because this way we learn to mix colors right from the beginning. In addition, three paint tubes or paint pots are much cheaper than a whole kit.

By the way, the price differences between the various manufacturers are mostly due to the pigment density of the watercolors. Expensive watercolor paints are usually more heavily pigmented and will last much longer. With cheap watercolor paints, it is the exact opposite. If you are not sure whether watercolor painting is the right thing for you, you can certainly invest in the cheaper option.

To mix watercolors you can buy an extra mixing bowl or use an old plate. Many watercolor kits even offer areas for mixing in their lid.

In addition to paint pots and paint tubes, there are also watercolor pencils. Not only do they look like colored pencils, but you can also use them as colored pencils! Except that you can go over their strokes with a wet brush and the color will dissolve on paper just like regular watercolor.

Watercolor Landscape

Other materials

With the basic equipment of brush, watercolor paper, and paint we can already start painting. But other materials can make our paintings look even more interesting.

Tape

Tape is the perfect material if we want to frame our watercolor painting. However, it should be one that can be easily removed from the paper and does not destroy it during the process.

Ink

Ink and watercolors harmonize perfectly with each other. There is no white watercolor, so you simply leave spots blank when painting. However, if we want to paint, for example, white hair on a dark background, simply leaving the areas blank becomes an almost impossible task.

Both white and black ink can be used to create super interesting accents in a watercolor painting. It is definitely worth giving it a try if you enjoy painting with watercolors.

4 techniques for watercolor painting

Painting with watercolor is particularly intimidating as the water and colors seem uncontrollable and we cannot erase mistakes like we do when drawing. With these four simple techniques, we will gain control of the brush and become much calmer when painting.

Transparent application

How intense color will look on paper can be controlled by the mixing ratio of watercolors and water. Little water makes the watercolor intense, while a lot of water makes it transparent. To get a feel for how much or how little water our watercolors need for different results, we should test this on a separate piece of paper.

Monochrome gradient watercolor

A transparent application is perfect if you want the sketch to shine through the paint.

We need to make sure that our preliminary drawing is not water-soluble though. Charcoal, for example, would mix immediately with the watercolors, whereas a pencil remains exactly as it is.

Watercolor painting of goldfish with pencil sketch

Glaze

A glaze is a way of transparent paint application. Basically, you draw a line or fill an area with transparent paint, wait for it to dry completely, and then put another layer of transparent paint over it.

With glazes, you work your way through your painting in stages, which has a different look than if you mix the watercolors while they are still wet.

Watercolor techniques: glaze

Wash

Washes are seamless color gradients, which you can paint with thick brushes and lots of water.

Watercolor techniques: wash

Gradients

For some motives, a sunset, for example, you will need to paint perfect gradients. Let's start with a simple color gradient from color to water.

We achieve precise color gradients by placing the strokes next to each other with decreasing or increasing water content.

Watercolor painting technique: Color gradient red

The same is true for gradients going from one color to another.

In the example, we started with a strong blue with a small amount of water. Towards the middle, not only the amount of water has increased, but also the amount of red color. Continuously, the amount of water was reduced and the amount of red color increased.

Watercolor painting technique: color gradient blue to red

Wet in wet

First, we apply clear water or very wet paint to an area. While this area is still wet, we dab paint into it with the wet brush.

The color pigments spread slowly across the wet area and create interesting color gradients.

Watercolor painting technique: wet in wet

Dry on dry

It is important that the paper is absolutely dry. It does not have to be blank, but if we, for example, have worked with wet in wet before, everything must be dry.

We paint with a dry brush on dry paper. Technically speaking, the brush is not really completely dry, but the water content is very low compared to other techniques.

The point is to make the brush look more like a pencil so that you can draw with it just as precisely. Hair or grass can be painted with this technique pretty well.

Watercolor painting technique: dry on dry

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